Willie Nelson and the Armadillo World Headquarters

photo by Jim Richardson
By Rush Evans

The room held about 1,500 people, most of whom would just sit on the big floor in front of the stage covered with sections of carpet pieced together. The place caught on fairly quickly as the little haven where the anti-establishment types could feel at home, and develop what was becoming their hedonistic music/ pot/beer-based lifestyle. “The lifestyle itself was an accepted art form in Austin and people set out to outdo everyone else with their own maximizing of daily pleasure,” says Wilson.     

And it wasn’t long before that lifestyle had a soundtrack to accompany it. Willie Nelson had already hung around Nashville for a decade and had written some country classics before trekking down to Austin to see what it was all about. Before Willie’s first Armadillo show, the Austin American-Statesman’s Townsend Miller wrote in his country music column of the appearance of Nelson on a psychedelic poster and wondered about that night’s inevitable collision of rednecks and long-hairs, the two warring camps that shared no common ground in any other place in the United States in the 1960s or ’70s. Only in Austin could the music bring the two together.

Almost as soon as the joint opened, a new brand of country/rock music began to be associated with it and its bohemian city. Musicians began to converge on the city where they could get a fair listen: Jerry Jeff Walker, a New York veteran of the psychedelic band Circus Maximus; Doug Sahm, a native Texan who’d spent several years as a rock star in San Francisco fronting the Sir Douglas Quintet;, Michael Murphey, a rocker with country roots and a difficult to categorize sound, along with dozens of other musical misfits. And then Willie Nelson abandoned Nashville and returned to his Central Texas stomping grounds.

Willie inadvertently found himself to be the leader of an outlaw musical movement that had nothing in common with what was going on in Nashville. It was later dubbed “redneck rock” or the “cosmic cowboy” sound, a new mix of traditional folk, tejano, blues, pop, psychedelia, you name it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t quite country and it wasn’t quite rock. Simultaneous with this new genre came new, creative practitioners of established sounds like the blues, with bands like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Paul Ray And The Cobras setting up shop in town.

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